Trust uses decoy dog to outfox curious ducks: Boarstall's restored 16th-century trap is used to collect birds for ringing

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The Independent Online
DON, a rare Dutch decoy dog, danced around reed screens beside a lake to attract the attention of the ducks while his master, Jim Worgan, peered through a hole in the screen. The ducks began to quack loudly and swim towards the dog.

'That is their alarm quack which says in duck language that they have seen a fox,' Mr Worgan said, while feeding a chocolate drop to the dog to encourage him to continue running round the screens. 'Ducks are naturally curious and they will follow the dog thinking that he is a fox. The ducks feel quite safe on the water and will even gang up on a fox and have a go at him if they get a chance.'

Don is a kooikerhonje, bred in Holland for this job and is the right size and colour to be mistaken for a fox. He was imported by the National Trust to work at the 16th-century duck decoy at Boarstall near Oxford which the trust is restoring.

Don danced round the screens and the ducks continued to quack loudly, but they would not follow him as they should. 'These are my resident ducks and they know the dog,' Mr Worgan said.

'Generally we get some wild teal here, but there is so much flooding at the moment that they could be anywhere,' Mr Worgan said.

If circumstances are right, the ducks follow the dog up the channel, known as a pipe, and when they are half way up Mr Worgan suddenly appears from behind a screen waving a white handkerchief and shouting at them. Then the ducks make off rapidly upstream and into the trap. In the old days they would have their necks wrung, but today they are ringed.

'The advantage of using the decoy in the old days was that you could catch more ducks and keep them alive until needed. Shooting fills a couple of ducks with lead while the others escape. The lord of the manor liked his ducks without lead and so the decoy continued to be used until 1814,' he said.

The Boarstall decoy, which is recorded in an engraving of 1582, was derelict when Mr Worgan first came to the site 28 years ago and began to restore it. Now with the help of the National Trust three out of the four original decoy pipes are in working order.

'The ducks we ring here travel all over the world,' he said. 'Dozens of them have been found in Holland and Belgium, but I have had rings sent back to me from Turkey. Two of our ducks were shot in Murmansk on the Arctic coast of Russia. And one ring was returned from Luigi's restaurant in Soho.

'But the strangest sighting of one of our ducks was at Shillingford bridge on the Thames. An angler hooked the duck by accident and landed it. The hook had gone through its beak and couldn't be removed until the angler knocked the bird out by pouring some whisky down its throat. The bird was last seen flying off on an erratic course down the Thames.'

(Photographs omitted)